Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
Triglycerides are an important indicator of your health. They’re a crucial source of energy, which is why they’re necessary for the normal function of the body. Besides being used for energy, triglycerides can also be stored in the body as fat. When there are too many triglycerides present in the body, they can increase your risk for serious medical conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, and inflammation of the pancreas.
Fortunately, triglycerides are heavily affected by our diet and lifestyle. This means that by making simple changes, many people are able to bring their triglycerides back to their normal level.
What are triglycerides?
The definition of triglycerides is a type of fat that is found in the blood. They are an organic compound, consisting of 3 fats and glycerol, which is a form of glucose. Triglycerides are essential to the body because they are an important source of energy. However, when there are too many triglycerides in the blood, they can cause serious conditions such as atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, and acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
Our main source of triglycerides stems from the food that we eat. Once digested, the triglycerides enter the bloodstream, after which they are transported to the cells where they are either used to provide energy or stored as fat. Although most of our triglycerides come from the food that we eat, some tissues in our body also have the ability to create them. The liver, the gut, muscles, and adipose tissue are all able to produce triglycerides.
Your triglycerides are often tested in the blood together with high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol to have a complete overview. An increase in cholesterol in the blood often goes hand-in-hand with an increase in triglycerides, but both can be elevated on their own.
What are the symptoms of high triglycerides?
High triglycerides usually don’t cause any symptoms, which is why it’s important to know the factors that can put you at risk for elevated levels. It’s recommended to have regular check-ups if you can associate yourself with these risk factors.
- Inactive lifestyle
- Excessive consummation of red meat, dairy or alcohol
- Kidney or liver disease
- Family history of an elevated triglyceride count
Some of the consequences of high triglycerides can progress in the body without symptoms as well, such as coronary artery disease, which often only gives warning signals when a hear attack is about to happen. These symptoms may include pain or discomfort in the chest and the arms, shortness of breath, and weakness.
What causes high triglycerides?
As a high level of triglycerides can contribute to cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke, it’s important to know what the normal range is for triglycerides and when exactly your levels are getting risky. The following guidelines can help determine in which range your levels classify.
- Healthy level: less than 150 mg/dL
- Mildly high level: 150-199 mg/dL
- High level: 200-499 mg/dL
- Very high level: more than 500 mg/dL
Our triglyceride levels are mostly in line with our lifestyle. Eating unhealthy, fatty foods and not exercising regularly can lead to a buildup of triglycerides in the body.
Besides your lifestyle habits, there are also a number of conditions that can increase your triglycerides. People suffering from these conditions may have increased triglyceride levels:
- Diabetes and obesity
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Thyroid disease.
Some medications can cause an increase in triglycerides as a side effect. These can be medications used to lower the blood pressure, or medications used to treat breast cancer, HIV and other conditions. If you’re unsure whether your medicine is causing an increase in triglycerides, you should consult your doctor.
In rare cases, your genetics can also be the cause of your high triglyceride levels. Some conditions passed on between blood relatives, like the familial chylomicronemia syndrome, can be the cause of high triglycerides.
How to reduce triglycerides?
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to lower the amount of triglycerides in your body. As they are related to your lifestyle, a few simple changes can already have a big impact. The most effective way to reduce your triglycerides is to make healthy changes to your lifestyle.
A key step here is to incorporate regular exercise into your routine. This can be anything that gets your heart pumping faster. It’s recommended to get about 30 minutes of mild exercise 5 days per week. Besides getting exercise, there are also other changes you can make to create a healthier lifestyle. These include proper stress management and getting enough hours of sleep every night.
Another important way to lower your triglycerides is to watch your diet. It’s important to stay away from alcohol and fatty foods, especially those containing saturated fats. The biggest source of saturated fats are animal-derived products such as red meat, butter, cheese and cream. You can replace these foods by fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meat and nuts. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and herring, can even help lower your triglyceride levels.
If you’ve made changes to your diet and lifestyle and your triglyceride levels are still too high, then your doctor may advise you to take extra omega-3 supplements, nicotinic acid, or other medications that help to get you back to a healthy level of triglycerides.
Q: What do triglycerides do?
Triglycerides are an important source of energy for the body. However, if they’re excessively present in the blood, they may cause serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease or inflammation of the pancreas.
Q: How to lower triglycerides fast?
You can lower your triglycerides by making changes to your diet and exercising. Avoiding saturated fats and incorporating foods that contain omega-3 into your diet help to lower your triglyceride levels.
Q: What level of triglycerides is dangerous?
High levels of triglycerides (200-499 mg/dL) can put you at risk for heart disease and atherosclerosis. If your levels are higher than 500 mg/dL, you can develop a serious inflammation of the pancreas.
Q: When should I see a doctor? As high triglycerides usually don’t cause any symptoms, it’s recommended to have a check-up regularly if you have any risk factors such as an unhealthy lifestyle or liver, thyroid or kidney conditions.
NHS (2020). Dietary advice for management of high triglycerides. Accessed on 29/04/2022 ↩
D’ERASMO L. et al (2021). Rare treatments for rare dyslipidemias: new perspectives in the treatment of homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (HoFH0 and familial chylomicronemia syndrome (FCS). Accessed on 04/05/2022 ↩